After what seemed like hours, Charlotte finally got herself pulled back together. She was sure her eyes were puffy, her make up was entirely ruined, and her face was splotchy. She looked at Gwendolyn who had returned again and sat in the office chair, waiting.
“There are some forms that you need to complete and sign. There are some confidentiality forms, client separation, and a survey. Take your time completing them. I will be back in a while to check on you. Do you need to use the restroom?”
Charlotte slowly shook her head, tears still hanging in her eyes.
“Well then, I will be back in a while to check on you. If you need to use the restroom then, I will be able to take you. Do you have any questions?”
Charlotte shook her head again and sniffled. This was turning into the worst day of her life.
Gwendolyn left again, closing the door behind her. Charlotte once again burst into tears. She had never felt so abandoned in her life. She finally dragged herself over to the desk to complete the forms. It took less than half an hour for her to finish all of the paperwork. She still had to wait until 5:30 to go back to her desk.
After an hour, Gwendolyn returned.
“Have you finished your paperwork?”
“Yes, I have.” Charlotte replied quietly. She handed the forms to Gwendolyn who took them and quickly leafed through to make sure Charlotte had completed everything.
“Do you need to use the restroom?” Gwendolyn asked without looking at Charlotte.
“Um, yes I do.” Charlotte lied. She just wanted to get out of this room for a little bit.
“Follow me, please.” Gwendolyn walked briskly to the restroom and actually waited outside the door while Charlotte was inside. Charlotte took her time washing her hands and freshening up her face. She felt a little better afterward. Coming out, Charlotte asked if she would be able to have a piece of paper and pen to make a list of what she needed to do once she got back to her desk to minimize her time after work. Gwendolyn looked wary, but obliged Charlotte’s request. She walked Charlotte back to the room.
“Your supervisor should be in shortly for your exit interview. You will then be escorted back to your desk to pack up. We will provide you with a box.”
Without waiting for a reply, Gwendolyn left once again.
After a short time, Charlotte’s supervisor came in and administered the exit interview, which really was just a form she needed to fill out. He didn’t even talk to her about her answers or anything. Charlotte could sense that he felt extremely awkward. She tried to make small talk, but his one-word answers told her that he was in no mood to make nice.
He then left. Charlotte realized that she had no idea what time it was or how much longer she had to wait. She busied herself making plans for leaving that evening. She made a short list of what she needed to do at her desk and then planned her move to Portland, Oregon. Charlotte had never been there and didn’t know anything about it, but it would be far away from here. She could start over and make something of herself.
Finally there was a knock on the door and a large security guard appeared in the doorway with a box.
“We will walk you down to your desk. Pack up quickly and don’t take any company property.” Charlotte took the box he offered and wordlessly followed to her desk.
It was silent in the usually busy office. It seemed that everyone had left on time – no late workers today. Charlotte packed up her personal effects in the eerie silence. She saw her phone and suddenly remembered that she was supposed to take Ryan to the airport. She saw six missed calls and three messages plus a handful of text messages.
Going into her missed calls, Charlotte saw five calls from Ryan and one from Melanie. The last call from Ryan was just seven minutes ago. He must have called just before boarding. Charlotte actually felt bad for not letting him know that she couldn’t make it. His flight left at 6:05.
“Miss, please continue packing up.” An unfamiliar voice broke into Charlotte’s thoughts. She glowered at the security guards without turning, cursing under her breath. Was she a criminal now that needed security escorting from the premises? She dropped her phone into her purse and finished packing. She packed up all the paperwork from the project she had worked on and then went onto her computer to clean out all her files. She trashed everything she had ever saved, cleared out her email inbox, and set up an auto-reply message to contact her supervisor since she would be out of the office. She then logged into the online timesheet system and filled out her last timesheet. Finally, Charlotte was ready to go. It was 6:15.
Being escorted from the building by the security guards infuriated Charlotte. She had worked very hard for this company and had a lot of pride in her job. She enjoyed her coworkers and felt like she was finally contributing something significant. Charlotte knew that the files on her computer could be recovered, but she had pages of handwritten notes with information the company would need to pursue what she had worked on any further. Charlotte wanted to make sure that they wouldn’t ever be able to lay their hands on it. If they wanted this bid, they’d have to find someone else to do the research and make the presentation.
Charlotte climbed into her car and drove home, knowing exactly what her next move would be. She was sure that no one, not even Melanie, would see this coming. She didn’t need someone to plan her life for her, she would do it on her own. Finally, Charlotte was going to break free.
Ryan found himself increasingly distracted on the flight. He couldn’t help but wonder why Charlotte wasn’t answering her phone. Was she mad at him? Did he mess up somehow and didn’t know it? He’d received the silent treatment before, but usually there was a blow out fight preceding it so he knew to expect it. He hadn’t heard back from Melanie either. Perhaps she was busy at work and he would have a message when he landed in New Orleans. He wasn’t scheduled to land until after 10 pm.
Ryan glanced over at his seat partner. She was leaned back with her eyes closed, headphones on. He pulled the ring box out of his pocket and opened it, looking at the ring inside. He imagined what it would look like on Charlotte’s hand. He went through the scene in his mind – how he wanted to propose, what he would say, how she would respond. Things hadn’t gone his way today.
No matter, Ryan thought to himself. We’ve been together for six years. What’s a few more days to wait to ask her? He put the ring back into his pocket, popped Charlotte’s earbuds into his ears, and leaned back looking out the window at the clouds below. Just three more days.